Professional Development

NAA publishes fresh, new content every week covering a wide variety of topics related to the field of aftershool. In addition, NAA offers a variety of opportunities for virtual professional development (PD) through meaningful content, conversations and connections. Click here to see full descriptions of virtual PD offerings.

Stories That Shape Us: Thomas Ruffing

Tuesday, 03 August 2021 12:30

NAA's "Stories That Shape Us" series shines a spotlight on the authentic stories and varying career paths of the afterschool profession. Told from the perspectives of NAA members themselves, each story is unique and highlights the differences but also the commonalities of the dedicated professionals serving youth around the country in out-of-school time today.

Thomas Ruffing, After School Coordinator with Give Me A Chance, Inc. in Ogden, Utah, found himself working in the afterschool field after retiring from the military.

"As a retired military Veteran, instead of moving back to my home of record, we as a family decided to remain where we were as the surrounding area has many advantages and opportunities," Ruffing said. "I entered university to pursue my teaching degree and licensure immediately upon retirement taking full advantage of my GI Bill entitlements."

Ruffing wanted to be in a field that suited him but was also in higher demand than most, pointing him on a path to become a Secondary Science Teacher.

"Not only was I much older than the average college student, I realized I had the maturity and steadfast dedication to finish this degree at or below the typical timeline, even after suffering a personal injury which required I pause my coursework," Ruffing explained. However, it became clear to Ruffing after completing his student teaching that a new full-time career was out of the question. "Teaching requires youth and energy, patience and compassion, that is without doubt; however, the sheer volume and size of the workload was such that it would worsen some of my previous injuries. I was in no station in life to make my personal and physical health deteriorate beyond what I could manage."

Ruffing was clearly at a crossroads. He wondered: What path should he take? Should he go back to his previous skills and training as an aircraft maintainer? Should he look for work in the mechanical repair field? What was available that would pay well, but was part time?

"I began applying to several different lines of work using my previous skills and training, still hoping to land something that would involve teaching," Ruffing said, noting the application process was almost as tiring as waiting for the interview phone calls. "Finally, in the early fall of 2018, my current opportunity became known to me, so I applied and was asked to interview. I was hired on the spot and the rest is history!

"I truly have come to appreciate how fortunate I have been in my life, as well as serving the group of young people entrusted to our care."

Through Give Me A Chance, Inc., Ruffing and his colleagues serve low-income and underprivileged children from kindergarten to sixth grade in the Ogden, Utah community, free-of-charge.

"Our program is sponsored by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, a company of Catholic women who serve the poor, founded 387 years ago," he said. "Our mission is to improve the children's academic performance as we believe education and remediation leads to self-sufficiency."

Early on in Ruffing's previous military service career, he had a supervisory chain of command, as well as career path mentors, who made it abundantly clear that self-improvement, among other professional traits, would often lead to advancement in the ranks. This is in part what led him to place such a high importance on professional development.

"I sought out professional development skills in many areas, not so much to be good at them, but to having shared in the experience," Ruffing explained, adding that his career also encouraged the spirit of service beyond his primary specialty in volunteer and community service. "It was here that I gained experience in leading youth groups, organizing events, tutoring and communication."

Another important facet of Ruffing's development was seeking out and joining various professional organizations like NAA that would help propel him forward to mid-level and senior paygrades.

"This challenged me to see what others could see in me that I could not see in myself, as well as teaching me valuable skills such as working with difficult personnel, embracing change, helping others to see the need for change, making shifts in thinking and improving processes," Ruffing said. "Entering the educational field, I knew that I would needing this same development."

Early in Ruffing's new profession, he began to reach out and introduce himself to community educational leaders, principals, teachers, fellow afterschool professionals, and a friend who led him to join their state's afterschool association, which put him in direct contact with NAA. "I knew joining NAA would be worth it and I have not regretted it!"

Ruffing says that NAA's thoughtful communications opened a door to the world of life out of school, provided information regarding personal and professional development, and brought to Ruffing's attention various social issues that confront our children today.

"I'm forever grateful for our membership with NAA and will continue it well into the future!"

To connect to more afterschool professionals around the country, upgrade to an Executive membership today. Look for more "Stories That Shape Us" experiences and perspectives in upcoming enewsletters.

Courtesy of NAA.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Ruffing.